While I write this, tickets are being bought for the opening showings of Heaven is for Real, the movie adaptation of a book detailing the report of a young boy’s near-death encounter with heaven. Preachers are putting the final touches on their Easter sermons, many of which will end with an impassioned reminder that you too can escape the pains of hell, trading this world’s death for the next world’s delights. My Facebook and Twitter feeds fill with reminders to the same effect, quickly approaching maximum one-liner evangelism saturation. They want you to experience the hope of Easter Sunday.
While I write this, adults want Easter to last forever, not because of any interest in the holiday, but because they dread the reality Monday morning brings. Even their young children join them in their pain, fearing the bully or teacher who can’t see the image of God standing in front of them. Families mourn students lost at sea when a ferry sank. Jews in a Ukrainian city wonder who is responsible for sending them orders to register themselves and their property. Doctors and nurses deliver news they don’t want to say while working feverishly on empty stomachs and battered feed to prove themselves wrong. Disease, abuse, poverty, and violence call forth enough tears to drown those whom the torment of dehydration and malnutrition won’t allow to cry. They experience the darkness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday full well.
But before I wrote this, a man, called Jesus in English, told all who would listen, “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I came they they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Evangelicals are really good at remembering Christ’s calls to spread the gospel and Paul’s reminders that we don’t mourn as those without hope. But we fail this teaching of Christ when we neglect this world. We fall into a kind of modern Gnosticism, preaching that Heaven is for real and all this stuff doesn’t really matter, emphasizing the spiritual and profaning the physical. Christ came, lived, died, and rose again so that life would be more full for us. Full of hope as we work to steward the Creation with which God entrusted us. Full of passion as we love all of a human being, feeding them spiritually and physically with equal fervor. Full of joy as we simply enjoy the ability to feel grass underneath us and sun above us and friends beside us. And even full of pain, as Christ’s deep love saves us from the gnawing numbness and allows us the privilege to mourn with those who mourn.
If, while I write this, you want to find hope to tackle tomorrow, not just the future day of your death. If you see so much beauty in this world, and potential for even more. If you find no comfort in well-meaning friends who use pat answers and reassurances to rush from Friday’s cross to Sunday’s empty tomb. If you want to live, know this: heaven is for real, but so is this life. And Christ wants you to live in its abundance now, savoring every sunrise and the little bird pecking at crumbs beside my table and tears shared with a dear friend, long before He greets you in heaven.